Pitt's Donald named semifinalist for Outland Trophy
Like a player carrying a football, Pitt defensive line coach Inoke Breckterfield can't turn around without Aaron Donald running into him.
On the practice field: “He's always the first guy out on defense,” Breckterfield said.
In the video room: “He comes in every day, two to three hours a day, and we'll sit down and watch film.”
In games: “He commands double teams.”
With his fourth and final collegiate season coming to an end — he wasn't redshirted, even though he was lightly recruited at Penn Hills — Donald is starting to reap the benefits of his diligence.
Word came Wednesday from Outland Trophy officials that he is one of six semifinalists for the national honor, which is bestowed every year since 1946 on the best interior lineman in the FBS.
Donald is the only defensive player on the list, which includes tackles Cyrus Kouoandjio of Alabama and Jake Matthews of Texas A&M, guards Cyril Richardson of Baylor and David Yankey of Stanford, and Florida State center Bryan Stork.
Three finalists will be announced Monday, and the winner will be revealed Dec. 12 on ESPN during a college football awards show on ESPN.
“It's past my expectations,” Donald said. “I am truly honored. Like my dad always said, ‘Hard work pays off.' All that sweat and tears are paying off.”
Pitt's season hasn't played out the way Donald planned, but he succeeded in making his presence known and impacting most games from the interior tackle position. Possessing a quick first step, Donald is often in the backfield with a clean shot at the ball-carrier the instant the handoff is made.
He leads the nation in tackles for a loss (22.5) for more than a football field's worth of negative yardage (112).
Donald has 10 sacks (sixth in the nation) and 14 hurries, double the amount of the next Pitt player, end Bryan Murphy. He shares the ACC lead in forced fumbles (four) with Boston College's Kasim Edebali.
Donald's statistics have fallen off from his efforts in the Georgia Tech game Nov. 2, when he had 11 tackles, including six TFLs, one sack and two forced fumbles. Dealing with double teams on most snaps, he managed six tackles overall (three for losses) the past two games against Notre Dame and North Carolina.
“You get frustrated with double teams and triple teams, but it's a part of football,” Donald said.
Most people describe Donald as disruptive, but Breckterfield added this:“He's a student of the game. We'll sit down and watch film and try to pick (offensive linemen) apart. Every team will give you a tip (of its vulnerability).
“He does a good job of seeing it, feeling it and attacking it. He is putting himself in a good position just off film study.”
When the NFL comes calling prior to next year's draft, Breckterfield said Donald will sell himself.
“He's a guy who respects the game,” he said.
Breckterfield scoffs at the notion that Donald (6-foot, 285 pounds) may be too short for some NFL teams' purposes.
“Height is really nothing to me,” he said. “For him, it's leverage and explosion.”
Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.
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